Censors for democracy

On 17 January, the Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute issued a report written by Marcus Kolga, Stemming the Virus: Understanding and responding to the threat of Russian disinformation. Kolga claimed that, ‘The information warfare that the Kremlin is currently engaged in against Canada and its allies is total, and its objective is to tear apart our society and undermine our trust in our government and institutions.’

Kolga’s report went on to list a whole series of individuals, organizations and publications which he believes are assisting the Kremlin in its dastardly plan. This blog was featured in a graphic titled ‘Illustration of a disinformation campaign’. Irrussianality was grouped with the likes of InfoWars as a ‘Pro-Kremlin, Conspiracy Theory, Extremist Platform’, and depicted as a conduit through which ‘False narratives’ generated by the Russian government are channelled to the ‘general public/voters’. On the next page of the report Kolga then alleged that such ‘platforms’ aimed ‘to generate support for Kremlin positions, discredit critics and opponents by all means available, and sow confusion and turn societies against each other in the West.’

This blog is not a ‘pro-Kremlin, conspiracy theory, extremist platform’, nor does it channel ‘false narratives’ of the Russian government to the Canadian public, nor does it to seek to ‘sow confusion’ or ‘turn societies against each other.’ I contacted the Macdonald-Laurier Institute requesting that it apologise and withdraw the report. Yesterday the Institute admitted that the inclusion of Irrussianality was an ‘error’, withdrew the original version of the report, and published a new version in which this blog is no longer mentioned. The new version also contains the following editor’s note:

Note: The section on “business and civil society” has been revised and clarified. The infographic on p.14, which incorrectly mentioned Irrussianality, has also been corrected.

That may not be the end of the matter, as I understand that various other parties mentioned in the report are demanding further corrections. But for my part, I am satisfied with this retraction. That said, I still consider the report to be a poor piece of work. Beyond attempting to discredit those who don’t share the belief that Russia poses a deadly threat to Western society, literature of this type often ends with policy recommendations which I personally consider rather authoritarian. Kolga’s Stemming the Virus is no exception. As well as proposing that RT and ‘other forms of raw propaganda’ should be available on cable TV only as ‘stand alone channels’ (i.e. not bundled with others), Kolga suggests that they be charged additional taxes, and that ‘viewer warnings must be placed on all foreign propaganda channels to inform unaware viewers of the nature of the information they’re consuming.’

This last recommendation resembles the NewsGuard app which colour-codes websites according to whether it considers them trustworthy (RT gets a red tag – ‘untrustworthy’), except that in Kolga’s scheme it seems that such tags would be legally mandatory. Kolga also suggests that the Canadian government should ‘advocate for major search engines to add conspiracy theory and disinformation platforms … to their restricted search, like pornography sites’, thereby ensuring that they generally don’t turn up when you do a search.

Let’s think about that idea for a moment. Who would do the censoring – i.e. who would decide what’s a ‘conspiracy theory, extremist platform’ that needs tagging and restricting? Even if we accept the idea of censorship – which I have to say I do not – we have to ask: would it be done by people who could be trusted to differentiate between sources which are really ‘fake news’ and sources whose opinions they just happen to dislike? I can’t say that I’m optimistic. In his report, Marcus Kolga originally listed this blog as a ‘pro-Kremlin, conspiracy theory, extremist website’. According to his recommendations, therefore, Irrussianality would be censored, tagged red, and hidden by search engines. If a moderate academic website like this can be labelled in this way, who can possibly consider themselves safe? Anybody who’s not marching in lockstep with the guardians’ narrative is liable to find themselves a target.

We’re told that we need to do this to ‘defend democracy’. I beg to differ.

30 thoughts on “Censors for democracy”

  1. Sounds exactly like the Bezos-owned Washington ComPost’s PropOrNot similar hit piece on U.S. sites that don’t conform to the Russiagate narrative that appeared right after the election and included Naked Capitalism, a fantastic left-leaning news aggregation site. Counterpunch, the long time left wing investigative journalism and opinion site, Antiwar.com and other reputable sites that were around long before Trump ever came onto the political scene.

    This type of behavior is beyond disgraceful.

    https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/12/we-demand-that-the-washington-post-retract-its-propaganda-story-defaming-naked-capitalism-and-other-sites-and-issue-an-apology.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These folks have been in the lead on this for a while:

      https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/01/fake-d01.html

      https://www.wsws.org/en/topics/mediaCategory/google-censorship/

      “In late April 2017, Google announced the implementation of new algorithms aimed at limiting or blocking access to the WSWS and other left wing, anti-war and progressive websites. Similar measures to deny Internet users access to revolutionary socialist and oppositional information and commentary have been implemented by Facebook and Twitter.”

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      1. hmm, why do you spell it like that? Why not Snowflake? I used it exactly like that for a short while … for whatever reason.

        I somehow doubt that’s what Google’s Fred 2017 update was all about.

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  2. thanks for sharing this.. censorship is being expressed a number of different ways today… a friend shared a site with me yesterday – mediabiasfactcheck.com… it is a one person shop in north carolina and tells whether a site is fact or fake based!!! nice concept but also extremely subjective.. your story immediately reminded me of the site they were sharing from yesterday…

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    1. You can see a list of the institute’s donors on p. 33 of their latest annual report, here: https://macdonaldlaurier.ca/files/pdf/2018_MLI_annual_report_FINALWeb.pdf

      For the most part it seems to be charitable foundations and corporations. I don’t know most of them, though I do recognize the Charles Koch foundation. The one donor whose name which stood out for me was ‘Ministry of Defence of Latvia’!

      This was for 2017, so today’s list is probably slightly different.

      As for Kolga, he is well connected – last year he appeared before the parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Safety along with Bill Browder and Gary Kasparov. You can read their joint statement here: https://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/russias-abuse-interpols-red-notice-system-kolga-browder-kasparov-standing-committee-public-safety/ Kolga was photographed with Browder and Chrystia Freeland at a meeting in Toronto last week.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just a random pick: number 2 in their alphabetical list of sponsors is something called “Atlas Network”. Which, according to wikipedia, is “operating as an extension of U.S. foreign policy, with Atlas-affiliated think tanks receiving funding from the United States Department of State and the National Endowment for Democracy.

        And of course the “National Endowment for Democracy (NED)” itself, according to wikipedia “is funded primarily through an annual allocation from the U.S. Congress in the form of a grant awarded through the United States Information Agency (USIA).

        So, yeah, the information warfare. A PSYOP.

        What’s the point of reading, analyzing (and thus popularizing) these things? Tactical techniques are clear, and the only question is (imo) why the US government is doing this. What exactly is the long term objective? Are we being conditioned for mere political belligerence a-la Cold War (to scare the rubes and justify military budgets), or is a nuclear war in the cards this time?

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Irrussianality was grouped with the likes of InfoWars as a ‘Pro-Kremlin, Conspiracy Theory, Extremist Platform’,

    Interesting combination. Do I have to add irony alert?

    Beyond attempting to discredit those who don’t share the belief that Russia poses a deadly threat to Western society, literature of this type often ends with policy recommendations which I personally consider rather authoritarian.

    Yes, that’s the most interesting feature of the mindset of those truly righteous warriors.

    Marcus Kolga:Perhaps most worrisome is the Kremlin’s demonstrated ability to interfere in democratic elections. Election outcomes are not the primary focus of this warfare, but a measure of the overall success of the Kremlin’s disinformation and active measures campaigns.

    Semi-Irony alert: Do I read this correctly? As far as “the Kremlin’s disinformation and active measures campaigns” are concerned, no complicated evaluation process is necessary, all we have to look at are election results in “the Western world”? Put another way, if we don’t like them it must be the result of a Russians influence campaign. 😉

    “Analysis”, if one can call it that, as job creation measure?

    ********
    You are still present under the header. “Alternative Media” Platforms: Apologists, pro-regime, and conspiracy media”, Russia today, with link in the notes.
    In 2008, Kremlin propaganda was considered a problem largely for post-Soviet nations, such as Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, and Ukraine. Western warnings about Russian propaganda were shrugged off as “Russophobia” or the “hysteric paranoia” of diaspora groups (Robinson 2018).
    Robinson, Paul. 2018. “Living in Wacko-land.” Irrussianality (blog), September 25. Available at https://irrussianality.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/living-in-wacko-land/.

    Interesting not only as reference concerning Marcus Kolga. Both this and your earlier article.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just prior to reading this piece, I sent out a draft for consideration at a venue that I suspect is hypocritically judged.

    In any event, this matter is nothing new as evidenced by what Taras Kuzio has said:

    Liked by 1 person

  5. From out west in Alberta the list of contributors are for the most part right wing Conservatives. Expect more of this trite since this is the year we are having a Federal Election. (and Provincial elections) The introduction of Russia into the election started in September 2018. There are only three Canada wide TV networks, CBC, CTV and Global. Of the over 700 cable channels available with 80% coming from the US.

    Knock Canada as a socialist country has become noticeable in the comment sections online. The Canadian universal Healthcare system is the number one target. Watch for the word “alleged” appearing too many times to mention in the top articles.

    Congratulations for making the list even though it’s ridiculous. More people could follow your example “requesting that it apologise and withdraw the report..” Thank you for another informative article.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I for one am eternally happy that Canada finally decided to carry on with its internatl Ukrainization! Cuz “the world will become either Ukrainian or depopulated” (c). Або мова або геть. SUGS!

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      1. Mikhail, if you still can you should link to it. Without it it sounds heavily tautological, Ein weißer Schimmel? A black white horse?

        While reading the article it felt you were struggling with something familiar. In debates on Mondoweiss/Phil Weiss’ blog I struggled with someone demanding “balance” where it felt over the top. On the other hand I also got quite bored by the two heavily entrenched fronts. Neutral is an ideal … not a standard.

        After having read your article I am much less sure we agree on the way PR treated the Scripal case.

        Let me give you an example to explain were I am coming from. I remain skeptical concerning both the Litvinenko case and the Skripal cases. At the time the Skripal case hit our political talk show circles over here they at one point invited the British secret services specialist Anthony Glees.
        https://www.buckingham.ac.uk/directory/professor-anthony-glees/

        He went to great length to convince us Germans that the Brits had a lot of knowledge on the case based on a multitude of other cases with proven Russian involvement.. He only referred to those cases only via what felt like a highly exaggerated number way beyond ten, if I recall correctly. No one asked what those cases beyond the spectacular Litvinenko case were, thus I contacted him. His response left me highly unsatisfied.

        Now with that in mind, like PR notes on matters a lot. Not only that But precisely how he answered the question in the video on Irrationality you seemed to have linked to.

        *********
        On SST (Sic Semper Tyrannis, Pat Lang) David Habakkuk studied the Litvinenko case rather extensively. Cooperated with others over teim, e.g. in Italy, I think. Up to the inquiry.
        https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/493860/The-Litvinenko-Inquiry-H-C-695-web.pdf

        I tend heavily towards David’s uneasy feelings up to and including the inquiry. But that’s about it. And I hardly spent 10 percent of the time on the case he did.

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      2. Sorry Mikhail, badly proofread, but it seems not only me but also the staff on our first public channel fact checked Prof Glee’s statements. Could well be I cc’d them my direct questions to the man. Others may have done. Took some time for him to answer.. Here the relevant passage via Google translate:

        Glees: “The big thing is that every country, every government has the duty to offer security to the[its] citizens. And if the Russians kill people in the UK – and there are already 14 cases where we think people were killed by the Russians, only in the UK – then the government has to intervene. “

        They refer, as Glee’s may have done in his response, to a BuzzFeed article: From Russia with Blood:
        https://www.buzzfeed.com/heidiblake/from-russia-with-blood-14-suspected-hits-on-british-soil

        The German expert asked on matters remains as skeptical even concerning the Litvinenko Affair as I remain.

        German link, Fact Check post talk show broadcast.
        https://www.daserste.de/information/talk/maischberger/faktencheck/faktencheck-Trump-oder-Putin-Vor-wem-muessen-wir-mehr-Angst-haben-100.html

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Agree, disagree or partially agree, I think the SCF piece at issue is a detailed, fair and balanced overview within 1,500 words.

        A main matter concerns the use and differentiation between the Cold War and “new Cold War”. The chance for unnecessary military escalations (whether by proxy or otherwise) hasn’t been eliminated. Relative to that observation is the lack of extended discussion among the diverse views on this very matter. This situation is a contributing factor to the hypocritically applied anti-Russian bigotry noted in that article.

        Dunno what was said in the SCF piece about the Skripals and Litvinenko that’s so disagreeable with you.

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      4. Mikhail,
        Dunno what was said in the SCF piece about the Skripals and Litvinenko that’s so disagreeable with you.

        I seem to appreciate PR’s unemotional approach to matters in contexts where you do not. Were you seemingly would prefer him to take sides. Misinterpretation?

        Robinson (among other things) gave credence to the possibility of Russian government involvement in the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Skripals.

        I didn’t understand/interpret him that way.

        Paul Robinson interview 4:30 …you need to be very careful about a lot of these claims (some Russian or Putin himself ordering Russian expat murders in the UK). While there is some evidence of Russian state involvement in one or two cases, there isn’t in the overwhelming majority of them …

        There is no evidence at all, that can be used to blame Russia? It may not convince you or me, but the evidence obviously can be construed that way.

        Scaramella, yes well, no doubt a colorful player that shady Prof is:

        Michael AverkoAn appropriate counter-establishment reply notes that Litvinenko’s Italian acquaintance Mario Scaramella, had also been infected with polonium, in addition to having been arrested in Italy on a defamation charge and the matter of arms smuggling.

        Suggesting what exactly? Irony alert: There were SISMI, Belusconi, Mafia connections ordered the hit while making sure that all the evidence pointed at Russia?

        ********
        The term moderate extremist still irritates me. But obviously I should have used oxymoronic and not tautological. Ein schwarzer Schimmel.

        But I am sure you’ll come up with a better coinage soon. 😉 Meaning, no harm meant. I am in babbling mode. ….

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      5. Why be irritated? Better to be somewhat amused. A stance I take towards this comeback to that SCF piece, which has been picked up at ER:

        I made valid follow-up replies to the video that our host recently made. I’ll add to the comment he made about how the Russian government is capable of ordering the kind of hit under discussion. The Russian government isn’t alone on that score. Moreover (as has been exhibited), the Anglo-American governments and mass media are capable of spinning inaccurate things from an anti-Russian perspective – a matter that relates to the kind of anti-Russian bigotry evident, as noted in the SCF article.

        The mentioned particulars regarding Litvinenko lead to the possibility that he was poisoned in another way, which is much different from a Russian government hit.

        As utilized in the SCF piece, moderate extremist (extreme moderate if you may) is appropriate.

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  7. Grotesque. Mask it as they may attempt, censorship which presorts what you are allowed to read and consequently what you are allowed to think strikes at the very heart of the freedom the west is always preaching about.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations on your victory over what clearly deserved the label of “fake news”. I am, however, surprised that the MLI capitulated so quickly in response to your request for an apology and a retraction.

    The Kuzio video clip posted above is rather interesting and also very revealing. Kuzio has in the past does very serious research but I do not think his characterization in this video of you or of Richard Sakwa are accurate. One does not have to be a Putinophile to believe that the reporting of the the Western Powers’ relations with Russia has been extremely partisan and often very misleading (one assumes purposefully). Seeking to understand another country’s perspective of a crisis, or explaining the motivation behind that country’s policies, are not the same as advocacy or collusion.

    Kuzio, Kolga and MLI, and very many other publications seem to have forgotten the important contribution people like you make to the study of international history and politics.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s because Kolga and Kuzio have a clear anti-Russian leaning agenda. This Canadian based Kolga involved org reminds me of the Captive Nations Committee legacy in the US:

      https://ceecouncil.org/

      Note the outdated news reference to Savchenko – adding how she has since been imprisoned by the Kiev regime.

      As for Kuzio, I see that he’s railing against a perceived pro-Polish bias concerning the Polish-Ukrainian conflict following WW I thru WW II.

      The united Russia bashing effort gets somewhat compromised by the differences among some of the eastern and central Europeans.

      Like

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